Women need to start speaking up at weddings 

The gender inequality during wedding speeches is pretty shameful. And it’s a wrong we owe it to ourselves to right, says Ella Walker

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By Ella Walker on

I managed about three mouthfuls of salmon, a couple of broccoli florets (the beef fillet went untouched), and none of thecrème brûlée (sob).

The rest of the wedding breakfast was spent disappearing to the loo with my not-getting-married-today sister to go over our lines, fretfully re-reading a scuffed up, colour coordinated sheet of A4, while our other, actually-getting-married-today sister, rolled her eyes at our panic each time we left the table.

Stressed is something of an understatement. Making a speech in front of 100 people is hard enough without the pressure of a) being up first, b) it being your little sister’s wedding day, and c) having to field guests who keep asking incredulously: “You’re making a speech?!”, then dubiously adding, “You’re brave.”

It wasn’t much of a confidence boost, particularly when the groom and best man went unquestioned on the fact they’d be raising a glass and attempting to nail the holy grail of wedding speeches: heartfelt hilarity with a touch of humiliation.

But then, weddings have rules. A rigid, time-honoured framework dictated by archaic, if comforting, traditions that outline everything from what you’re allowed to wear and who you dance with, to how to cut cake and who says what when and to whom. And one of those rules is: men do the speeches.

It jars that on a life-changing, relationship-defining, family-fuelled occasion – a day when it’s mandatory to say what you think and feel in front of the people you like best – that women so often keep schtum

In the last two years I've been to six weddings (hit 27 and they’re endemic), and of those six, women only made speeches at one, and even then, not the bride. At wedding #1, the all-female silence went by unnoticed, swallowed whole by the conventional patter of the male speeches: father of the bride says how proud he is of his little girl; groom thanks bride for turning up; best man says how great bride looks, then suggests she’s made a mistake by turning up at all; toasts. Everyone laughs in the right places, gets a bit teary and hopes the best man’s speech doesn’t veer  into inappropriate territory.

We all know the drill.

But by weddings #3 and #4, my obliviousness was replaced by boredom (yes, we know the bride looks hot, but how about mentioning the personality beneath all that tulle?), and then anger. Why aren’t any women standing up?

Is it because the white dress supposedly says it all? Because the mother of the bride doesn’t want mascara sludging down her face? Because the maid of honour planned the hen do and that’s quite enough of a contribution, thank you very much?

Socially, politically and culturally, women are speaking up more loudly than ever, in the boardroom and in parliament. We live in a world where Senator Wendy Davis can speak for 13 hours to block an anti-abortion clinic bill in Texas. Young movie stars like Emma Watson and Jennifer Lawrence are finding their voices, showing how important, and what a difference it can make, when women make themselves heard.

Sure, they don’t always have a glass of Prosecco in their hand and aren’t being besieged by white bunting and table favours, but the principle is the same. 

It jars that on a life-changing, relationship-defining, family-fuelled occasion – a day when it’s mandatory to say what you think and feel in front of the people you like best – that women so often keep schtum.

Making that speech at my sister’s wedding last month is a bit of a blur now. A flurry of anecdotes, yelling: “WE LOVE YOU”, mum blubbing, the groom getting all choked up – it was the longest and shortest seven minutes of my life. It was horrible, but also pretty wonderful too. And without it, all those people might not have known how mad and funny, irritating and loved my sister is, and maybe she wouldn’t have really known either.

There’s something about saying things out loud in front of a load of people (however often you see them, and however shaky your hands) that makes everything more concrete, more powerful.

And the greatest thing about traditions is that there’s always room for new ones. So, best men can keep their spot on the podium, but it’s time best women jostled for mic time too.


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